Good evening and thank you. I want to begin by thanking the executive committee of the Society for inviting me, and thank Kim Alexander in particular. When Kim invited me over a year ago, little did she know the time and energy she would have to put forth defending that invitation. I am especially thankful that the committee in general, and Kim and Arlene Sanchez-Walsh in particular, took a stand for academic independence, freedom, and integrity.
I also want to thank a few others. I reckon myself to be a bit of a populist theologian – it’s why I spend more time writing blog posts than I do on completing my dissertation. So, one of the ways that I prepare for a gathering like this is to ask the blogosphere and the twitterverse what they think, and the responses are almost always enlightening and edifying. On this topic in particular, that online community has been particularly helpful, filling in some of the many gaps in my knowledge of Pentecostalism. Some people in this room have been kind enough to chime in on those discussions, including one who heartily recommended Amos Yong’s book, which I have truly enjoyed. My thanks to Baker Books for rushing me a review copy of that title.
Jürgen Moltmann has said that hearing someone talk about theological method is akin to listening to a person clear his throat. But, I must confess a personal weakness for prolegomena. It is, in many ways, my favorite part of theology. It’s a bit like an auto mechanic who spends his day organizing his tools, but never gets around to fixing the car.
Indeed, my single favorite piece of theological writing is from Moltmann himself. A section in Theology of Hope or a paragraph from The Crucified God? Nope. My favorite theological essay is Moltmann’s preface in The Trinity and the Kingdom of God. On occasion, I read those six pages devotionally.
Therein, Moltmann describes his methodological pivot, moving from his first three books – in which he attempts to describe the whole of theology through each of three prisms – to his latter six-book cycle, which he calls his “contributions to theology.” These contributions are planned and orderly, he writes, but they avoid the seductions of systematic and dogmatic thinking. And, referring to himself, Moltmann continues, “The writer recognizes the conditions and limitations of his own position, and the relativity of his own particular environment.”
And then, he pens one of the most theologically significant statements that I have ever read:
Behind all this is the conviction that, humanly speaking, truth is to be found in unhindered dialogue. Fellowship and freedom are the human components for knowledge of the truth, the truth of God. And the fellowship I mean here is the fellowship of mutual participation and unifying sympathy.
The influence of this theological method on the emerging church cannot be overstated – it is what emergent is all about.